18 August 2012

Charith Beligaswatte infuses magic into clay

From the long ago of dates and names that escape us to the right now of the sophisticated consumer human beings have been fascinated with decoration.  Put another way, it seems that unlike other creatures great and small, wild and wonderful, human beings have never been happy with who they are.  Embellishment has a quintessentially human signature; in word and recall, and in curriculum vitae and promise.  And that, some might say, is the cultural logic of jewelry.  

There’s demand and there’s supply.  There are brands.  There is gold and silver.  And then there is creativity and innovation, the things that differentiate exquisite from ordinary. And that’s what Charith Beligaswatte is about.

Charith Beligaswatte is an upcoming designer from The University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka; a young man who has invested his creativity in the fascinating and always-popular business of jewelry design.  Indeed, this interest has prompted him to complete a training program on the subject at the Gem and Jewellery Research and Training Institute.

The world has admittedly come quite a distance from the time that costume jewelry was considered ‘poor woman’s choice’ or rather lack thereof.  Today it’s not about just gold or silver.  Elegance and desirability have become larger than those two metals.  Today it is less about the material than the magic that is inscribed on it.   That’s what Charith focuses on.

“I simply study trends and allow my hands to do the magic on ceramic and metal’.  Easy to say of course. Charith considers it quite a challenge  to brand jewelry using these simple materials. He has to contend with a number of issues.  He has to use both modern and traditional styles and still come up with something unique when he designs unisex jewelry.  He is very conscious of his target market: ‘it is not for those who focus on the material used but those who are drawn by the uniqueness of design.

Charith considers his designs fashionable.  ‘They are modern but carry the trace of Sri Lankan traditions. His jewelry is inspired by ambient and antique styles and therefore carries a rustic signature. Each design is a personification of innovation and necessarily so for one who places so much on creativity.  Simplicity, however, is his watchword.  Even as he strives for exclusivity and even as he pours his passion into the creative exercise, Charith wants the outcome to be simple.  Perhaps that’s the final test of elegance.

The philosophy itself is simple.  The task is to give value to that which is not considered to be valuable, to secure in aesthetic merit the value denied on account of material-poverty.  In other words, whereas most of the work is done by the metal itself when it comes to gold and silver jewelry, the craftsman’s task is that much more arduous when using less valuable material to make something that can remain competitive. Charith uses lesser metals, ceramic and leather as his main ingredients.
Where does the inspiration come from, though?  This is what Charith has to say:

‘I have mainly focused on ancient Sri Lankan temple paintings and lacquer (laksha) designs. I have incorporated their color schemes and decorative patterns into my own work. The neutral color palette and retro color combinations that fall under this trend will appeal to lovers of heritage brands. Developing these ideas further, I created what I want to introduce as my Traditional Jewelry Collection.

'A rough draft of the design is created, and then the white clay imported from Australia is molded into the desired form, upon which creating intricate carvings and patterns are inscribed. Some are fret carvings, and some are flat surfaces engraved and some molded into delicate shapes and then painted. Once it has been painted, a final coat of glazing is applied to protect the detailing. It is not durable compared to gold or silver of course but the value scores more in terms of design.  The aesthetic value of merging metal, ceramic and leather is dramatic and beautiful. The colour hues and tones worked into the material, tactile and smooth, shows variations and how the designer has given life to the idea or concept.’

He had help.  The proprietor of ‘Pottery Work’, a shop located in Majestic City, came forward to assist him, giving him access to the factory.

Charith obviously understands the market.  The collection is attractive and tailor made to suit the needs of the time, where the trend is towards antiques and vintage collections. The young and even the middle aged are seeking designer jewelry. The concept is to give the end user a feel that he or she is really wearing a masterpiece of craftsmanship. Lovers of fantasy, antique, and vintage are the likely consumers, bold enough and endowed with enough aesthetic sense to express their personality through one-off designs.

Time moves and Charith is conscious of the fact.  Each piece is originally designed and crafted keeping in mind ever-changing fashion trends. Some of course are all-season products and they allow him to cater to various segments of the population. The bottom line is affordability without compromising what is commonly and perhaps unthinkingly called ‘class’. 

The question ‘what next?’ is perhaps not relevant to Charith.  This was something he put his heart and soul into.  He had always wanted to know if it was possible to turn ceramic into jewelry. He’s found out how and come out with some classic creations. He wanted to give value to something not readily considered valuable.  He wanted to imprint on it the colour, line and nuance of tradition.  He did that too.  He didn’t sell his jewelry.  He fulfilled a need, that’s all.  The ‘what next?’ would most likely be about other kinds of design for Charith is a final year student at Moratuwa University studying furniture and interior design. We don’t know to what regions of creativity life will lead him, but we could safely say that the philosophy of simplicity, value-addition, drawing from the vast reservoir that is the traditional will be loyal companions on his journey. 

[published in the UNDO Section of 'The Nation', August 12, 2012]


SANDIKA said...

this is a nice article. a different one. and we can see that his designs are so elegant. i like to wish him luck!

Anonymous said...

Charith is quite amazing. He was the best artist in my design class for technical drawings and otherwise. Great going Charith :)